We are now in the last part of our study of Romans, the book from which the Protestant Reformation was born—the book that more than any other should, indeed, show us why we are Protestants and why we must remain that way. As Protestants, and especially as Seventh-day Adventists, we rest on the principle of sola scriptura—the Bible alone as the standard of faith. And it is from the Bible that we have learned the same truth that caused our spiritual forefather, centuries ago, to break from Rome—the great truth of salvation by faith, a truth so powerfully expressed in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. Perhaps the whole thing can be summarized by the pagan jailer’s question, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). In Romans, we got the answer to that question—and the answer was not what the church was giving at the time of Luther. Hence, the Reformation began, and here we are today.
In this, the last section, Paul touches on other topics, perhaps not as central to his main theme, yet important enough to be included in the letter. Thus, for us, they are sacred Scripture as well.
How did Paul end this letter, what did he write, and what truths are there for us, the heirs not just of Paul but, indeed, of our Protestant forefathers?
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, December 30.
In Romans 14:1–3, the question concerns the eating of meats that may have been sacrificed to idols. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) ruled that Gentile converts should refrain from eating such foods. But there was always the question as to whether meats sold in public markets had come from animals sacrificed to idols (see 1 Cor. 10:25).
Some Christians didn’t care about that at all; others, if there were the slightest doubt, chose to eat vegetables instead. The issue had nothing to do with the question of vegetarianism and healthful living. Nor is Paul implying in this passage that the distinction between clean and unclean meats has been abolished. This is not the subject under consideration. If the words “he may eat all things” (Rom. 14:2) were taken to mean that now any animal, clean or otherwise, could be eaten, they would be misapplied. Comparison with other New Testament passages would rule against such an application.
Meanwhile, to “receive” one weak in the faith meant to accord him or her full membership and social status. The person was not to be argued with but given the right to his or her opinion.
It’s important, too, to realize that in Romans 14:3 Paul does not speak negatively of the one “weak in the faith” in Romans 14:1. Nor does he give this person advice as to how to become strong. So far as God is concerned, the overscrupulous Christian (judged overscrupulous, apparently, not by God but by his or her fellow Christians) is accepted. “God hath received him.”
We tend to judge others harshly at times, and often, for the same things that we do ourselves. What we do doesn’t seem as bad to us as when others do the same thing. We might fool ourselves by our hypocrisy, but not God, who warned us: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?” (Matt. 7:1–4).
What is the significance of the statement from the Old Testament that Paul introduced here? Rom. 14:11.
The citation from Isaiah 45:23 supports the thought that all must appear for judgment. “Every knee” and “every tongue” individualizes the summons. The implication is that each one will have to answer for his or her own life and deeds (Rom. 14:12). No one can answer for another. In this important sense, we are not our brother’s keeper.
The subject is still foods sacrificed to idols. The issue is, clearly, not the distinction between the foods deemed clean and unclean. Paul is saying that there is nothing wrong per se in eating foods that might have been offered to idols. After all, what is an idol, anyway? It is nothing (see 1 Cor. 8:4), so who cares if some pagan offered the food to a statue of a frog or a bull?
A person should not be made to violate his or her conscience, even if the conscience is overly sensitive. This fact the “strong” brethren apparently did not understand. They despised the scrupulosity of the “weak” brethren and put stumbling blocks in their way.
In Romans 14:17–20, Paul is putting various aspects of Christianity into proper perspective. Although diet is important, Christians should not quarrel over some people’s choices to eat vegetables instead of flesh meats that might have been sacrificed to idols. Instead, they ought to focus on righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. How might we apply this idea to questions of diet today in our church? However much the health message, and especially the teachings on diet, can be a blessing to us, not everyone sees this subject in the same way, and we need to respect those differences.
Have you heard someone say, “It is none of anyone’s business what I eat or what I wear or what kind of entertainment I engage in”? Is that so? None of us lives in a vacuum. Our actions, words, deeds, and even diet can affect others, either for good or for bad. It’s not hard to see how. If someone who looks up to you sees you doing something “wrong,” he or she could be influenced by your example to do that same thing. We fool ourselves if we think otherwise. To argue that you didn’t force the person is beside the point. As Christians, we have responsibilities to one another, and if our example can lead someone astray, we are culpable.
In this discussion about not judging others who might view some things differently from the way we do, and not being a stumbling block to others who might be offended by our actions, Paul brings up the issue of special days that some want to observe and others don’t.
Which days is Paul speaking about? Was there a controversy in the early church over the observance or nonobservance of certain days? Apparently so. We get a hint of such controversy in Galatians 4:9, 10, where Paul berates the Galatian Christians for observing “days, and months, and times, and years.” As we noted in lesson 2, some in the church had persuaded the Galatian Christians to be circumcised and to keep other precepts of the law of Moses. Paul feared that these ideas might harm the Roman church as well. But perhaps in Rome it was particularly the Jewish Christians who had a hard time persuading themselves that they need no longer observe the Jewish festivals. Paul here is saying: do as you please in this matter; the important point is not to judge those who view the matter differently from you. Apparently some Christians, to be on the safe side, decided to observe one or more of the Jewish festivals. Paul’s counsel is: let them do it if they are persuaded they should.
To bring the weekly Sabbath into Romans 14:5, as some argue, is unwarranted. Can one imagine Paul taking such a laid-back attitude toward the fourth commandment? As we have seen all quarter, Paul placed a heavy emphasis on obedience to the law, so he certainly wasn’t going to place the Sabbath commandment in the same category as people who were uptight about eating foods that might have been offered to idols. However commonly these texts are used as an example to show that the seventh-day Sabbath is no longer binding, they say no such thing. Their use in that manner is a prime example of what Peter warned that people were doing with Paul’s writings: “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16).
The God of patience means the God who helps His children to endure steadfastly. The word for “patience,” hupomone, means “fortitude,” “steadfast endurance.” The word for “consolation” may be translated as “encouragement.” The God of encouragement is the God who encourages. The God of hope is the God who has given hope to humankind. Likewise, the God of peace is the God who gives peace and in whom one may have peace.
Paul ends his letter in a glorious ascription of praise to God. God is the one in whom the Roman Christians, and all Christians, can safely put their trust to confirm their standing as redeemed sons and daughters of God, justified by faith and now led by the Spirit of God.
We know that Paul was inspired by the Lord to write this letter in response to a specific situation at a specific time. What we don’t know are all the details regarding what the Lord had revealed to Paul about the future.
Yes, Paul did know about the “falling away” (2 Thess. 2:3), although how much he knew, the text doesn’t say. In short, we don’t know if Paul had any inkling of the role he and his writings, especially this letter, would have in final events. In one sense, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that in these texts Protestantism was born, and in them those who seek to stay faithful to Jesus have had and will have the scriptural foundation upon which to base their faith and commitment, even as the world wonders “after the beast” (Rev. 13:3).
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Unity and Love in the Church,” pp. 477, 478; “Love for the Erring,” pp. 604–606, in Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5; “Helping the Tempted,” p. 166, in The Ministry of Healing; p. 719, in The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6.
“I was shown the danger of the people of God in looking to Brother and Sister White and thinking that they must come to them with their burdens and seek counsel of them. This ought not so to be. They are invited by their compassionate, loving Saviour to come unto Him, when weary and heavy-laden, and He will relieve them. . . . Many come to us with the inquiry: Shall I do this? Shall I engage in that enterprise? Or, in regard to dress, Shall I wear this or that article? I answer them: You profess to be disciples of Christ. Study your Bibles. Read carefully and prayerfully the life of our dear Saviour when He dwelt among men upon the earth. Imitate His life, and you will not be found straying from the narrow path. We utterly refuse to be conscience for you. If we tell you just what to do, you will look to us to guide you, instead of going directly to Jesus for yourselves.”—Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, pp. 118, 119.
“We are not to place the responsibility of our duty upon others, and wait for them to tell us what to do. We cannot depend for counsel upon humanity. The Lord will teach us our duty just as willingly as He will teach somebody else. . . . Those who decide to do nothing in any line that will displease God, will know, after presenting their case before Him, just what course to pursue.”—The Desire of Ages, p. 668.
“There have ever been in the church those who are constantly inclined toward individual independence. They seem unable to realize that independence of spirit is liable to lead the human agent to have too much confidence in himself and to trust in his own judgment rather than to respect the counsel and highly esteem the judgment of his brethren.”— The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 163, 164.